Google Keeps Paying Deceased Employees' Families for a Decade

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Many of the perks Google famously offers its employees are designed to help those employees enjoy a healthier life. Organic food in the cafeteria! On-site gyms! Subsidized massages! Nap rooms!

Turns out, though, that the company also wants its employees to enjoy a better death. More specifically: a wealthier death. In an interview with Forbes's Meghan Casserly, Laszlo Bock -- Google's, Chief People Officer (in non-Google terms: head of HR) -- shares a Google benefit that is all too literally out of this world. "This might sound ridiculous," Bock tells Casserly. "But we've announced death benefits at Google."

Yes. It's like this: Should someone pass away while employed by Google, that person's surviving spouse or domestic partner will receive a check for 50 percent of the deceased's salary. And that spouse or domestic partner will receive that check every year. For the next decade.

Let's just take a moment to pause and appreciate that. You can get rich at Google even through dying.

What's notable in this arrangement from the business perspective, Casserly points out, is that the policy offers very few immediate benefits to the company. Google's everyday perks -- "everyday" in the sense of "intended for those who are still alive" -- exist to forge a work force that is, ideally, happy and healthy. And that accrues to Google's bottom line in the obvious ways. But perks delivered to non-employees -- the precise perks that would fall under the umbrella of death benefits -- have no such immediate rewards.

And the salary payouts aren't the only death benefit Google has been providing to its employees' families. In addition to the 10-year pay package, Casserly reports, surviving partners will get all stocks vested immediately. And any children of the decease, furthermore, will receive $1,000 a month from Google until age 19. Which gets amended to age 23 if those children are full-time students.

Again. Let's take a moment to appreciate this.

Google's "death benefits" policy has been in place since 2011, and is the result of the company's desire, Bock says, to do right by its employees -- even when they're no longer employees. "There is, of course, research that show employee benefit programs like ours can improve retention, and appear to improve performance on some level," Bock tells Casserly. "But it turns out that the reason we're doing these things for employees is not because it's important to the business, but simply because it's the right thing to do. When it comes down to it, it's better to work for a company who cares about you than a company who doesn't. And from a company standpoint, that makes it better to care than not to care."

Yes! That's awesome and admirable. The other interpretation, though, is that death benefits do indeed accrue to the business. People always want to protect their families; in fact, they tend to care much more about that then they do about the freshness of the quinoa salad being served in the cafeteria. Google is leveraging that fact. It's essentially providing in-house life insurance to its employees -- insurance that's contingent, of course, on those people remaining employees. Leaving Google -- for Twitter, for Apple, for whatever -- also means depriving your family, eventually, of your weirdly lucrative death. For younger employees, without partners or kids to think about, that kind of calculation won't much matter. For older ones, though ... it could matter a lot. 

So Google is playing a long game -- a really, really long game. And you could read its generosity not just as generosity, but also as an attempt to discourage employee mobility by fostering employee loyalty. Google, with all its perks, is treating its employees not just as employees, but as just what they are: investments. It hires top talent and then works to keep them at the top. As both a business and an employer of people, Google has an interest in being seen by its staff not just as a place of work, but as a way of life. Even in death.

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Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic.

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